Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa were both effusive in their praise for the all-new Juan Carlos I Marina circuit in Valencia, after Ferrari narrowly proved the team to beat during opening practice for this weekend's European Grand Prix.

Having sat just seventh on the midday timesheets, defending Formula 1 World Champion Raikkonen hit back during the second 90-minute session in the afternoon to pip Renault's Fernando Alonso to the quickest time of the day by the margin of a scant two hundredths of a second. It was, he admitted, a positive way to begin preparations.

"I like driving this track," the Finn stated. "It is different to other street circuits we have known. Yesterday when I walked the track I thought it would be fun, and today confirmed that impression.

"There are some very quick parts and almost everywhere there's a lot of room, maybe similar to some of the North American circuits used in the past. They have really done a good job.

"Today, our weekend got off to a good start, but obviously it is far too early to say where we are compared to the opposition. Overtaking? It will be difficult, as always - I hope I don't need to, by getting the best position in qualifying. The set-up we have found today is not bad, but there is still plenty of room for improvement."

Having out-paced his team-mate early on, Massa ultimately ended proceedings with the fourth-best time to his name, just over two tenths of a second adrift of the sister scarlet machine. He too professed himself in confident spirits for the challenge set to follow.

"They were two enjoyable sessions," the Brazilian underlined, "with the lap times tumbling bit-by-bit as the drivers lapped and got confidence in the track layout. The track surface is still very dirty, and it is easy to make mistakes which can lose you precious tenths; to do a good lap time you have to be perfect.

"I like the track - there's a nice atmosphere and I have to say the organisers have done a good job. Today it was important that we find a good base set-up immediately, and we managed to do that."

Ferrari are well aware that chief title rivals McLaren-Mercedes are once again the favourites for glory this weekend, but the Scuderia unexpectedly turned the tide on race day in Hungary three weeks ago prior to Massa's agonising late retirement, and team principal Stefano Domenicali is adamant that momentum must be maintained if the eleven-point gap separating the two teams at the top of the constructors' standings is not to shrink yet further.

"It was a good day," the Italian confirmed. "We worked well and acquired a lot of data from this track which, over the next few hours, will be used to prepare ourselves as well as possible for this weekend.

"From what we could see, given the usual unknowns on a Friday, we can say we are competitive. Whether we will be competitive enough to reach our target will only be revealed starting with tomorrow afternoon's qualifying."

"Overall, a good start to this Valencia weekend," added Maranello's technical director Luca Baldisserri. "It was important to get off on the right foot - and we did. We had prepared a baseline set-up for the F2008 and it seems to be about right, which meant that right from this morning we could work on improving it. Both drivers are reasonably happy with the handling of the car.

"Now we have to analyse all the data we have gathered, to work out how to move forward in terms of getting the best performance. Today the track has been very dirty, which was in fact predictable; however, the two types of Bridgestone tyre did not show up any great difference in their performance."


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